September 6, 2019
As climate variability increases and energy costs continue to rise, producing on-farm, renewable energy has become an attractive option for many farmers and ranchers. In order to help farmers and ranchers save money and utilize renewable energy, the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provides grants and loans to farmers and rural businesses interested in making energy efficiency improvements. The program also supports the purchase of wind, solar or other renewable energy systems, and provides grants to help farmers with energy audits and renewable energy development.
At the end of August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the availability of at least $50 million in grant funding to support on-farm renewable energy projects for the coming fiscal year (FY). Publishing a Request for Applications (RFA) for FY 2020 is a slightly unconventional move, because the 2020 fiscal year does not begin until October 1, 2019, and funding levels for the next fiscal year have not yet been finalized by Congress. However, USDA has stated that the reason for publishing the RFA early is to allow prospective applicants more time to develop and submit applications. Likewise, the early application release will give USDA staff additional time to process submitted applications.
How much funding will ultimately be available for FY 2020 is currently unknown. The 2018 Farm Bill provides the program with $50 million per year in mandatory funding, however, annual appropriations bills have routinely provided REAP with additional discretionary funds. The FY 2020 appropriations package is still under debate in Congress, and a short-term Continuing Resolution is becoming increasingly likely. USDA states in the REAP RFA that they will announce any funding received for the program in a continuing resolution or final appropriations package at this website.
REAP provides two types of funding assistance:
Grants and guaranteed loans are provided to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency upgrades to their operations. Wind, solar, renewable biomass, anaerobic digesters, small-hydroelectric, and geothermal are among the energy systems that can be funded by REAP.
Grants for energy audits and planning are available only to units of government, higher education, rural electric cooperatives, and public utilities. These awards are used to establish programs to assist agriculture producers and rural small businesses with evaluating their energy usage and potential for incorporating efficiency improvements/renewable energy production systems.
For more complete information on REAP, see the NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs, as well as USDA’s REAP website.
Generally, REAP applications can be submitted any time of the year. However, funding decisions are made in conjunction with several cut-off dates each fiscal year, which are outlined in the FY 2020 RFA. If an application cut-off date falls on a federal holiday, Saturday, or Sunday, the application opportunity is open until the next business day. In order to ensure small projects have a fair opportunity to compete for the funding, 20 percent of the funding is set-aside until June 29, 2020 to fund grants of $20,000 or less.
Grants and Guaranteed Loans for Renewable Energy Production and Energy Efficiency Improvements
Grants for Energy Audits and Renewable Energy Planning and Development
For detailed information about the application process, applicants should refer to the Federal Register notice or contact the USDA Rural Development Energy Coordinator for your state. In some cases, applicants must submit a hard copy application to their State Energy Coordinator. In other cases, applications may be submitted online via grants.gov. All applicants must register through the System for Award Management (SAM) and must obtain a Dun and Bradstreet Universal Number System (DUNS) number.
American farmers are on the frontlines of an evolving climate crisis, both in terms of the impacts they suffer from extreme weather and increasing pest pressures, as well as in terms of their ability to play key roles in climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. Increasing energy efficiency on farms is just one of many activities that farmers are taking up to address climate challenges. Farmers are also building up their soil health, planting cover crops, and improving their management of organic waste in order to sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
NSAC continues to work with our members and farmers across the country to expand conservation and research programs that help build resilience across rural America – including REAP and other federal programs.
For more information on how sustainable agriculture and conservation activities can tackle climate change, visit our Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs. USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) has also produced a report, “Cultivating Climate Resilience on Farms and Ranches”, which details ways that producers can assess their exposure to climate change-related risk.